I was re-reading the Sermon on the Mount-always a dangerous pursuit and very subversive to both the status quo and my personal comfort zone. Once again, my inner woman protested at these words of Jesus:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matthew 5:38)
That must be intended figuratively, right? He didn’t mean you should literally do this, did he? Wrong. He meant exactly what he said. But if an evil person slaps me on the cheek, I want to kick him in the scrotum. That will teach him. But will it, really? Look around at our present world. Protesters who took up arms in Syria and Libya turned their cause into bloody civil wars and they have not brought justice.
Police states rely on our fear of pain and death, pretty reliable fears normally. What if you refuse to fear? You have taken away their only real weapon, you have disarmed them.
Ghandi read the Bible and applied Jesus’ teaching literally in his resistance to British colonialism in India. He said, “I like your Christ, but not your Christians.” Wave after wave of unarmed men advanced, got their heads bashed and were carried off by women to the first aids stations they set up ahead of time. An American journalist wired home, “Whatever moral ascendancy the west held was lost here today. India is free. For she has taken all that steel and cruelty can give, and she neither cringed nor retreated.”
Jesus wasn’t suggesting we be wimpy doormats, he was suggesting striking at the very root power of oppression-fear; no fear and their whole scheme falls apart. This is a position of incredible strength, not weakness.
Martin Luther King, inspired by Jesus and Ghandi, taught his followers to take it on the cheek and keep advancing. He held training sessions in which protesters learned how to take abuse without striking back. Was this effective?
I remember watching a civil rights march on the evening news long ago. Peaceful protesters were being blown away with fire hoses and police were directing attack dogs at unarmed men and women. “Why are they doing that?” I asked a friend. “Some people don’t like black people,” he said. “But they are just marching. Look, they’re beating up innocent people,” I pointed out, horrified. “You are living in the south now. That’s the way it is here. Better keep quiet,” he advised. No, I decided the police were wrong and so were the people who didn’t like black people because they were black. This position has kept me in hot water right up until the present.
On the other hand, if the oppressors can get you to take up arms, you are playing right into their hands; armed violence is their game. Look around, in any struggle, those who take up arms do not reduce the number of casualties, they multiply them and very seldom “win.”
But wave after wave of fearless, non-violent human beings calling for justice? No weapon formed against that can prosper.